The Pittsburgh Penguins have invited 34-year-old forward Jay McClement to training camp. With Matt Cullen and Nick Bonino’s departures, the team is in need of some depth down the middle and a hole to fill on the penalty kill. Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford has taken a patient approach to filling out the roster and may still make a deal before camp opens in a couple of weeks.
Inviting McClement is a low-risk, high-reward scenario for the Penguins as he brings a tremendous amount of experience on the PK and allows Rutherford to add yet another reclamation project to his resume, should things work out favorably.
Singing the Blues
McClement was selected in the second round of the 2001 NHL entry draft by the St. Louis Blues. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 5, 2005, versus the Detroit Red Wings, and registered his first career goal (on a penalty shot) and assist, six days later versus the Chicago Blackhawks. In 2008-09, McClement started to hone his skills in short-handed situations as 314 of his 1361 minutes of ice time were spent on the PK.
Overall, McClement appeared in 449 games with St. Louis from 2005-11, scoring 156 points (52 goals, 104 assists) and averaged 15 minutes of ice time per game. He collected his first career hat-trick in October 2010 and scored on his second career penalty shot in 2007, the first penalty shot scored on the road in Blues history.
Rocky Mountain Low
On Feb. 18, 2011, McClement, was traded to the Colorado Avalanche along with Erik Johnson and a 1st round pick in the 2011 Draft for Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and a 2nd round pick in the 2011 Draft. In Colorado, McClement struggled to find the same level of consistency he displayed with the Blues. It was the first time in his professional career that he had a new supporting cast and missed the familiarity of playing within the Blues’ system. The challenges led McClement to watch from the press box on a few occasions as a healthy scratch.
He appeared in 104 games with the Avalanche from 2010-12 and registered one of the lowest point totals of his career in 2011-12, notching 17 points (10 goals, 7 assists).
Near Home in Toronto
When the free agency window opened on July 1, 2012, McClement signed a two-year, $3-million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Given the proximity to McClement’s hometown of Kingston, ON, the deal made perfect sense. The Leafs were in need of some help on the PK, after finishing 24th or lower in every season since the lockout of 2004-05.
McClement’s deal paid immediate dividends in the 2012-13 season, as the Leafs finished with the second best penalty kill in the NHL. However, Toronto was unable to sustain its success as they dropped 26 spots during the 2013-14 season, finishing 28th. Although the team’s overall ranking dropped, McClement firmly established himself as one of the finest short-handed players in the NHL during his stint with the Leafs.
Overall, McClement appeared in 129 games with Toronto, collecting 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and led the Leafs in the face-off circle, winning 53.7 percent of the draws he took in 2013-14.
Carolina Hurricanes Calling
When his time with Toronto ended, McClement signed a one-year pact with the Carolina Hurricanes. A few aspects of his game drew Hurricanes’ general manager Ron Francis to sign him, including his proficiency in the face-off circle, his ability to provide leadership and his consistent level of play.
In his first season with the Hurricanes, McClement appeared in 82 games and improved his face-off winning prowess, finishing with a career-high 55.5 percent. The Canes didn’t waste any time re-signing McClement to a two-year extension on Mar. 1, 2015.
Over his three seasons with Carolina, McClement’s ice time decreased. He averaged two fewer minutes per game than his average time with the Leafs, dropping from 14:57 per game to 12:16 per game. In 2016-17, a lower-body injury limited him to 65 games, which is the least amount of action he has seen since his NHL arrival in 2005.
Culmativeley, McClement appeared in 224 games with the Hurricanes, scoring 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists), and averaged 12:16 of ice-time per game.
Although McClement is not a lock to make the Penguins roster, he still has a lot left in the tank and is looking to rebound after a knee-sprain limited him to 65 games last season. He will provide competition for the candidates Pittsburgh has in their system who will also be vying for a spot on the roster.
Assuming McClement does get a spot at the table, he would play a pivotal role on the PK and provide some veteran savvy in the locker room. A deal would make sense for both sides. The Penguins would be filling some glaring holes in their roster and McClement would have an opportunity to rebound from a couple of challenging seasons, setting himself for a longer-term deal in the future.